Remembering Manipur’s historic ‘Nupi Lal’ movements

The Northeast Dialogue


Nupi lal, the Womens’ Rebellion of Manipur is a blaring example of women’s empowerment in the annals of history, where women of Manipur revolted against the force labour imposed by the then colonial British India.

The Nupi Lal broke out in July 1904, called for the abolish of the illegal lallup system enforced by the then British Political Agent, Colonel Maxwell in Manipur. On September 3, 1904, a large group of women marched towards Colonel Maxwell’s residence, where British authorities promised to rescind the order. However, the authorities ultimately failed to fulfill their promise, leading to a protest by approximately five thousand women at Khwairamband Bazar on October 5, 1904. The British authorities ultimately had to withdraw their orders, marking the first victory for the Nupi Lal movement.

Again, the second Nupi Lal culminated in 1939 after an agitation against the economic and administrative policies of Manipur Maharaja and the then political agent of the British Government, Mr Grimson. It later turned into a movement for economic and political reform in Manipur. The women of Manipur demanded the banning of rice exports from Manipur, but later their demands also included changes in the Darbar and administrative set-up. On December 12, 1939, hundreds of womenfolk came out in the streets of Imphal, marching up to the Darbar office.

After knowing that the Maharaja was out of station, thousands of women forced T A Sharpe, President of the Manipur State Darbar, to send an urgent telegram to the Maharaja of Manipur. Sharpe and other officials were held captive by the women until a response was received from the side of the Maharaja. British Army mercilessly charged the mothers of Manipur with their bayonet to disperse them after an order from the colonial British authority. This provoked the women of Manipur and solidified their rebellion against the colonial hegemony and export of rice.

Thousands of women steadfastly withstand by their demand to stop the export of rice from Manipur. As the rebellion got its momentum, the Maharaja of Manipur need to comply with the demands of the women and the next day itself he ordered to halt the export of rice.

In protest against the violence meted towards the women Khwairamband Bazar was closed for almost a year. The legacy of Nupi Lal continues to resonate till today, serving as a testament to the courage and resilience of women who stood up against oppression. Their unwavering spirit and unity remain as an inspiration for millions of women across the globe advocating women’s equality and empowerment.

In commemoration of the rebellion, the 12 of December is widely celebrated as Nupi lal day in Manipur.


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